Nine steps through a 325-pound man and then four steps back to chase a running back. This is the beginning of a game-breaking, a spirit-dissolving, and perhaps minds changing. This is the power and brilliance of Chris Jones, a giant man with the feet of a midfielder who just might be the most disruptive force on a Chiefs defense in desperate need of it.
There are a hundred reasons and a thousand ways the Chiefs smacked the Jaguars 30-14 here on Sunday. This was supposed to be a fight for the unofficial title of top contender to the New England Patriots for AFC superiority, but it turned into something much more interesting — the day the Chiefs’ defense punched back.
They did it both metaphorically and literally, actually, but the greatest single blow came when Jones used his brain to anticipate a screen pass, his hands to intercept it, and his agility to juke Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles into an and-1 mixtape on the touchdown return.
“If you saw me when he did that,” rookie Chiefs lineman Derrick Nnadi said, “you saw me jumping up like I was doing a vertical.”
“(Jones) will tell you he’s a basketball player,” teammate Steven Nelson said.
“But I don’t know,” Nnadi said. “I’ve seen his shots.”
This was, in many ways, an emasculation. The Jaguars are talented, aggressive and confident. They are unafraid to say it and too proud to stop, even after a convincing outcome. But they will play the rest of the season knowing that a group believed by many around the league to be soft overwhelmed them with both strength and execution.
Think about it like this: The Chiefs beat one of the league’s best teams despite Patrick Mahomes throwing two interceptions, Jones and Dee Ford being ejected, and Justin Houston, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Eric Murray among the Chiefs who couldn’t finish the game because they were injured.
They did that because the Chiefs’ defense produced — we’re not saying forced, because Bortles was a hot mess — five takeaways.
The brand and history of the Chiefs is a burden that must be carried until it is changed. That’s true for the players on this team, whether they were part of past failures or not. We have seen hot starts before, and they always end with a horror show early in the postseason.
But that story doesn’t have to be this group’s story, and while the most obvious and convincing reason will always be Mahomes, at least for one week the defense just won a game for the offense.
They did it by punching back at the bully, and even if some of that needs to be done in a smarter way, the more general act is a productive pursuit.
“First of all,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “No one’s going to push us around, anywhere. But you have to be smart about it.”
Jones’ pick-six put the Chiefs up 20-0 shortly before halftime, and that lead was safe because, ahem, it’s not yet the wild-card round.
Now, some perspective. The Chiefs forced much of the action, but the Jaguars were awful on their own. They were sloppy, disorganized and suffered from a few bizarre decisions by Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone. This same group scored just six points against the Titans, and you’re probably old enough to remember the Chiefs’ defense arm-wrestling the Patriots and Eagles to the ground early last year, too.
They need to keep doing this, is the point. This can’t be the end, or the best it gets. Highlights can be made in moments, and hope developed in a game, but creating something real — and that’s the only way this doesn’t end with another gut-punch — takes time.
This is an interesting development, at least.
Dee Ford continues a terrific contract-season push. He entered the weekend second behind only Khalil Mack in pressures as an edge rusher, according to Pro Football Focus, and again was a disruptive force against Jacksonville: three quarterback hits, one pass defended and a strip-sack recovered by rookie teammate Breeland Speaks.
Nelson made an interception in the end zone, gloriously memorialized with a Globetrotters tip-drill celebration that rivals last year’s potato sack race. Defensive back Jordan Lucas returned an interception 49 yards, breaking a half-dozen or so tackles along the way. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick intercepted a ball in the end zone, and threw it into the stands.
The five takeaways matched the most the Chiefs have had since the Jets embarrassed themselves here two years ago, and that’s the part that matters.
This isn’t going to be a great defense. This probably won’t be a good defense, and might not even be an average defense. There are too many holes with personnel. But if the Chiefs can be a dangerous defense, the kind of defense that can transform this from a fun ride to something more meaningful.
Because the offense is there. That reputation spread fast, and in some ways it’s the team’s best defense. It pressures the other side, even with Mahomes on the field. The Jaguars had third and 1 from the Chiefs’ 3 yard line, went for it with a pass, then went for it again with another pass.
They almost certainly would have kicked a field goal without the threat of facing the league’s most dangerous offense, and they definitely would have run the ball between the tackles if they were thinking straight. They weren’t, and that’s what matters.
The Chiefs’ offense will always need to be what opponents worry about most. But if their defense can add to that pressure, this team can rise from contender to champion.
We still need to see much more. But maybe, we just saw it begin.